Album Review

James Price - Fiddlin the Old-Time Way / Randy Howard - I Rest My Case / Glen Duncan - Self-Titled

James Price - Fiddlin The Old-Time Way

Its no exaggeration to say that were living in a new Golden Age of bluegrass fiddling. If the last few years stream of solid fiddle albums hasnt already made that apparent, this quartet of releases ought to cinch the point. Together they offer a rounded portrait of the current state of the fiddlers art, and whether your taste leans toward the raw sound of the old-time shuffled bow, the smooth, flowing lines of new acoustic music or somewhere in between, at least one of them will set you back on your heels. Holding down the fort at the old-time end of the spectrum is Ralph Stanleys fiddle player, James Price. Almost all of his CDs fourteen numbers are done in Ralphs mountain music manner not surprising, given that hes backed by a group comprised mostly of colleagues from the Clinch Mountain Boys. As a result, the playing is sturdy and straightforward, and many of the tunes are familiar standbys. Not all, though; theres a rhythmically witty Runnin Late from the pen of Jimmy Campbell, and the under-recorded Suwanneee River Hoedown. Plus, in a particularly neat twist, Price recasts Dark As A Dungeon, Kentucky Waltz and Farther Along as instrumentals, offering fresh insight into the role their melodies play in making them so memorable. Fiddlin The Old-Time Way breaks no new ground, but for fans of the Stanley sound, this will be one satisfying excursion. I Rest My Case, on the other hand, covers a lot of territory. Randy Howard, who died of cancer in 1999, was a one-time contest champion who moved to Nashville at the end of the 80s to become a session player. The long and varied list of guests on this project attests to the esteem in which he was held by both country and bluegrass musicians. The album kicks off with a jaunty take on Frank Wakefields New Camptown Races and concludes with an instrumental version of What A Wonderful World thats heartbreaking not only in its expressiveness but in what it says about Howards outlook on life. In between, theres a deliciously broad range of material, from a startling reworking of Sweet Bunch Of Daisies to a somber contemporary gospel song called Fit For A King that Howard once recorded with Garth Brooks. Naturally, bluegrass gets its due with, among others, an original tribute to Bill Monroe and a luminous reading of I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling, but so does swing (Kansas City Kitty) and new acoustic music (Houdini and the title track). Howard even takes on Dan Fogelbergs Leader Of The Band and, with the help of a sensitive vocal from Don Rigsby, wrestles it into compelling shape. I Rest My Case is a beautiful album, and an appropriate memorial to a brilliant and influential musician. Glen Duncan takes, in one way, a similar tack to Howards album, presenting a variety of lineups which include former employers Bobby Osborne and Jesse McReynolds as well as friends, heroes and current bandmates. Unlike Howard, though, Duncan sticks almost exclusively to the bluegrass straight and narrow, though hes not afraid to stretch out beyond the genres usual time constraints, delivering a seven-minute version of Sally Goodin that nevertheless leaves one wishing for even more. Eight of the twelve cuts here are original instrumentals, including Gallatin Road, a gem that finds Earl Scruggs sounding as good as he ever has in a just a fiddle and a five setting. Though hes a fine singer, Duncan leaves vocal duties to others; Osborne turns in a riveting performance on Footprints In The Snow, while the inimitable Eddie Stubbs delivers an immaculate recitation on Touch Of The Masters Hand. Those aside, the focus is on the fiddlers exuberant, free-flowing lines and the sympathetic, in-the-pocket playing of his guests which is to say, just where it should be. Aubrey Haynies The Bluegrass Fiddle Album also, as its title suggests, stays right in the bluegrass groove, but there the resemblance ends. Cut virtually live with a single group of colleagues Sam Bush, Tony Rice, Union Station bassist Barry Bales, and the underrated Dave Talbot on banjo the collection features only two original tunes; half of its twelve cuts come from the repertoire of ultimate Blue Grass Boy Kenny Baker. Haynie is in breathtaking form on his third solo album, and the narrow focus pays off in the sheer intensity of the performances. The Baker influence is perforce obvious, but one can hear others, too; in the end, the fiddle voice that predominates is purely Haynies, and its easy to hear the same kind of inventiveness here that has characterized his contributions to mainstream country cuts such as Sara Evans Born To Fly. Not surprisingly, the rest of the musicians keep up with him perfectly, and Talbot especially shows off some nifty new dimensions to his picking. For the ultimate verdict on the collection, look for some of these tunes, which have laid neglected in the grooves of old Baker records, to make a reappearance in jam sessions far and wide.